Arsenal is nothing without its history and heritage

A review of “Forward, Arsenal” by Bernard Joy

Bernard Joy was the last amateur player to play for England.  He played for the University of London, Casuals (with whom he won the Amateur Cup – which I should add for younger readers was a very big deal in earlier times, getting huge crowds, and sometimes being shown live on TV) and Southend United.

He also captained Great Britain in what was, I think, their last appearance in the Olympics in 1936.  Maybe they’ll remember him when they get the team back together for the London bash.

In 1935 he came to Arsenal (always as an amateur), initially playing for the reserves (and again let me point out that in those days the reserve games at Highbury would get crowds of 10,000 or so).

By 1937/38 he was in the first team, and so won a First Division winners’ medal.  In all he played 95 times for Arsenal – and of course it would have been many more had not the war got in the way.

He returned to playing in 1945 but soon moved from the game to become a journalist for the Standard and Sunday Express, writing “Forward, Arsenal” in 1953 – the first ever detailed history of the club from its foundation up to the moment of his writing.

It has been out of print for many years, but now, thanks to the sterling work of GCR Books it is back – complete with the huge array of invaluable photos covering the whole era.

I have to say I approached this book with serious trepidation.  It arrived in my office a week after I had handed over to my editor the final version of “Making the Arsenal” (my story of Norris’ take over in 1910) and I was worried.

Bernard Joy, being the man on the inside, had access to the Arsenal archives when he wrote this volume – something a mere supporter such as I is unlikely ever to get.  The foreword is by Tom Whittaker, for goodness sake, while Bernard Joy acknowledges the help he got from the club chairman at the time, not to mention Charlie Buchan, Alex James, and even George Allikson (who appears in my book, him being the editor of the club programme in 1910).  I mean, with that lot helping on the book, I could have looked a right twirp if I had got my facts wrong.

In fact I didn’t dare read the section on 1910 in my office for fear that I would spot some dreadful misunderstanding I had made, but the gods were with me and I was fine, there are no contradictions.

This  is a magnificent book – the definitive early history written by a man on the inside.  Don’t confuse this with the pathetic football stories you get today, covering 180 pages in double spacing and large type: this is a proper book.  Detailed, accurate, insightful, it capture Highbury as it was, told from the inside.  240 pages that captures the first 60 years of our club plus no less than 50 invaluable photos.

Obviously this Xmas I’d like you to be giving your nearest and dearest my forthcoming book, but even I, in my utterly biased position, know that Forward Arsenal is the masterwork.  If you are serious about supporting Arsenal, about knowing Arsenal’s history, and about venerating our past as well as our present, you need this.

“Forward, Arsenal” by Bernard Joy

Published by GCR Books available from

14 Replies to “Arsenal is nothing without its history and heritage”

  1. Bernard Joy was the last decent football journalist on the Evening Standard.

    A decent contributor to the BBC, how we could do with him now!!

  2. I have a copy of the book from the 1950s – courtesey of my Dad! Although I’m old enough to remember the Anderlecht game – an earlier link – I wasn’t around and able to read when it was originally published. I can confirm that it is indeed a great read. I also remember reading Joy in the Evening Standard too …. sigh. I must be getting old!

  3. Several trillion apologies. The web address was correct, but the link was, as Kevin says, wrongly set. I have corrected the link in the article so you can click on it – but also to confirm it is They are also the publishers of Arsenal Stadium Mystery and on their site you’ll see details of the next book in their historic series.


  4. To put it in football perspective: Tony you took a dive and deceived us all. Intention or not a public hanging will be the least. 😉
    This can happen to the best. It happened to me some times when I tried to put in a link at the Arsenal Benelux site, so I know the feeling.

    I think I got a nice idea for my wife and kids if they want to buy me something for my birthday or christmas. That is IF they want to give me something off course.

  5. As a young cadet I asked my professor, what is basic aim of history, and why should we be interested in something what happened before time we remember or the time we are told about. His answer was “history is there to teach you that time doesn’t start with you”. Interesting thought as much as this is interesting book which in a way should be answer to all those who are “scared for future of Arsenal”, and who don’t want “lose place in big four” …etc etc

  6. Thanks for the review, it’s gone on the Christmas wish list.

    One point though: I think a GB or UK football team last competed in the Olympics in 1972. Which makes the current Scottish concerns about losing their footballing independence and identity, despite FA, UEFA and FIFA assurances, seem all the more weird.

  7. The 2 books have now gone on my Xmas list. By the way, 26may1989, I did not even know that there was a GB/UK football team in 1972 Olympics. What do you know? Some knowledge just have a way of eluding you, don’t they? Thanks.

  8. @LRV: I think there was a GB side in pretty much every Olympics up to 1972 – but it was I believe purely amateur. I don’t know why it stopped after 1972 though. Perhaps some Scotsman thought “Oh no, if FIFA notice that we’ve had a combined Olympic team for 70 years, they’re bound to make us disband our proper national team, our league and haggis. Better stop and pretend it never happened.”

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